Revenue increased nearly 80% to $8.75 million in 2016
“For an agency to do what it does well and still maintain its culture and soul, it has to function like a tribe. A tribe starts to fall apart once you get past 75 people, so we’ll look to create a company of tribes.”
“You’ll see a lot of companies diving even deeper into the world of patient activation, expanding their capabilities, and building products related to it.”
When agency executives are quizzed about the challenges they’ve stared down and the headaches they’ve neutralized, their most common response is something along the lines of “when you have as much growth as we do, managing it is difficult.” It’s the equivalent of a job interviewee being asked about his or her weaknesses and responding, “Sometimes I work too long and too hard.” In both instances, a healthy degree of skepticism is warranted.
However, in the case of 2e Creative, the former reasoning transcends cliché. A few years ago, the agency employed 25 people; it now counts 60 full-timers among its ranks. It grew revenue by nearly 80% in 2016, to $8.75 million from $4.9 million.
Also this past year, it added two Alcon brands — the Contoura Lasik treatment and the Ngenuity platform — and Cumberland’s constipation drug Kristalose to a roster that included Zimmer Biomet’s spinal portfolio and multiple Novartis products including Vigamox. And Johnson & Johnson became a client when it completed the acquisition of Abbott Medical Optics, for which 2e handled multiple brands and a cataract portfolio.
Despite all of this, 2e’s president, CEO, and name-sake Ross Toohey doesn’t overplay the managing-
growth card. Rather, he characterizes the growing pains as an inevitable consequence of doing the type of work that attracts attention. “I am not complaining,” he stresses. “It was a huge year for us, financially and otherwise.”
However, Toohey acknowledges shepherding 2e from a small agency to a midsize one in a short time frame wore on him.
“I was underprepared for the amount of bureaucracy and frustration and excitement that comes with the growth, especially in developing client relationships,” he explains. “When you’re present in every piece of work for as long as I was, it’s a definite change to become more of a cultivator of culture and environment.”
2e’s growth had an effect on certain relationships, as well. “Let’s say you have a client who’s used to being able to call the creative director to change a few words on the email you just sent. It’s not easy to retrain that client,” Toohey continues. “One of the toughest things to do was help clients see the value in the new policies and protocols we put into place. With one or two, we had to mutually agree they would be better served by working with an agency sized like we used to be.”
In the grand scheme, these are not terrible problems. During the past year, 2e retained all of its key people and added heavy hitters from Omnicom, VP of engagement Melinda Love, and Appistry Genomics, director of strategy Maggie Piasecki.
While the agency’s expansion into Texas didn’t work out — “we opened the office around corporate communications, which is a capability clients don’t generally associate with ad agencies, and that was an expensive lesson,” Toohey says — 2e is eying expansion into the New York-New Jersey pharma corridor and on the West Coast. That could up the agency’s profile further within client-rich markets.
“People used to think of us as ‘that agency in St. Louis,’” Toohey notes. “If we’re not completely past that, we’re close.”
Correction: An earlier version of the article incorrectly described Maggie Piasecki’s title. She is the director of strategy.